skip to Main Content

High Activity Staves Off Pounds, Especially for Women

Highly active women gain less than highly active men over 20 years 

CHICAGO — People will gain significantly less weight by middle age –  especially women – if they engage in a vigorous activity five days a week starting as young adults, according to new Northwestern Medicine research.

Women particularly benefitted from high activity over 20 years, gaining an average of 13 pounds less than those with low activity; while men with high activity gained about 6 pounds less than their low-activity peers. High activity was defined as an occupational activity such as housework or construction work or recreational exercise (basketball, running, brisk walking or an exercise class) for 30 minutes, five times a week.

“Everyone benefits from high activity, but I was surprised by the gender differences,” said lead author Arlene Hankinson, M.D., an instructor in preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “It wasn’t that activity didn’t have an effect in men, but the effect was greater in women.”

The study was published Dec. 14 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

There could be several reasons for the gender difference, Hankinson said. Women are less likely than men to overestimate their activity, according to previous studies.  “Men may not be getting as much activity as they report,” Hankinson explained.

In addition, men in the high activity group compensated by eating more than their low-activity counterparts, which could have led to more weight gain. The highly active women didn’t eat more than low-activity women in the study.

This study was part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study, a multi-center, longitudinal, population-based, observational study designed to describe the development of risk factors for coronary heart disease in young black and white adults recruited from four geographic areas in the United States: Birmingham, Ala..; Chicago; Minneapolis; and Oakland, California.

“This paper is another example of how the CARDIA study has contributed to our knowledge about the importance of initiating healthy habits early in life and vigilantly maintaining them.  Common medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity have their origins in  childhood and can generally be prevented by maintaining a normal weight, not smoking, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet throughout life,” said coauthor Stephen Sidney, MD, MPH, Associate Director for Clinical Research at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

The study of 1,800 women and nearly 1,700 men is the first to measure the impact of high activity over 20 years between young adulthood and   middle age and to frequently examine participants (seven times) over that period. Study participants are more likely to remember and accurately report their behavior with regular exams, Hankinson noted.

Previous studies, Hankinson said, looked at a single exercise intervention’s effect on weight for a short period of time, or examined participants at only two points in time – the beginning and the end – of longer studies.

“We wanted to see if people’s activity levels of their youth were enough to help them keep weight off in middle age, or if they needed to up the ante,” Hankinson said. “It’s difficult to avoid gaining weight as you age. Our metabolic rate goes down. We develop conditions or have lifestyles that make it harder to maintain a high level of activity.”

Moderate activity and low activity had the same negligible affect on weight gain in the study. “Vigorous activity was the only kind that made a significant difference,” Hankinson noted.

“The study reinforces that everyone needs to make regular activity part of their lifestyles throughout their lives,” Hankinson said. “Not many people actually do that. Women should be especially motivated.”

The active group in the study comprised only 12 percent of the participants.

The CARDIA study is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.  The participants were 18 to 30 years at the beginning of the study and 38 to 50 at the end. are currently undergoing a 25-year follow-up examination at ages 43 to 53 years.

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top